“Our ability to handle life’s challenges is a measure of our strength of character.” ~ Les Brown
Life is challenging. Some folks seem to have more challenges than others, but we all have challenges. A lot has been thrown at me thus far that I’d rather not have dealt with at all. I’d like to think I have continued to grow for the better through challenging times. Chalk it up to an inherent teacher trait that I always need to learn something from situations, regardless of whether the situations are good or bad. I’ve become more hopeful, determined, and resilient over the past several years. I am grateful for these gifts and the opportunities I have had to use these strengths. These are amazing traits, but I am not sure I would have chosen them as main character strengths before my cancer diagnosis.
I would have put kindness, positivity, and a good sense of humor at the top of my list.
Being kind is what I try to show the world and what I expect from others. Our world needs more kindness. I can find a positive perspective in just about anything. Even if something sucks for me, I recognize it as truth and allow myself to be there for a while. My sense of humor has brought a smile to my face when I’ve needed it.
Not everyone gets my jokes.
How we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we truly are may all be the same or different. It’s natural to see ourselves how we want to be seen. Circumstances factor into how we are seen by others. I believe we are a mix of so many traits that are fluid and dependent on what is needed. My virtuous side may shine in the public eye, but I may need to channel my stealth if I were to plan the next great diamond heist. Luckily, I have more of an attraction to pearls. My theme here today is on character strengths rather than weaknesses, so I’m determined to stay on topic and not focus on unflattering qualities. I have those like we all do.
I stumbled across research on character strengths while doing some reading about happiness. A company that researches character strengths referred people to their website for anyone interested in identifying their top character strengths. The idea is to know your strengths so you can use them effectively. It takes about fifteen minutes to rate yourself on how much you fit various descriptions. Directions include responding to how you feel you are and not how you want to be, although I’m sure there is personal bias involved. How could there not be?
According to their research, they assert that people who use their strengths are 18 times more likely to be flourishing and happier than those who don’t know or use their strengths. Flourishing! I wanted to find out what they deemed my strengths and see if I agreed since I want to flourish as much as possible.
According to results, my top three character strengths are perspective, spirituality, and humor.
The ability to see the bigger picture and what is best for a situation was my top strength. I can see the big picture but am also detailed oriented. Some describe this as seeing the forest and the trees. I think being able to think mindfully about situations has helped me consider the advantages and disadvantages of a situation. Having made my share of mistakes and learning from them also has developed a sense of knowing that comes with looking at different viewpoints. Having different ways of looking at the world helps make sense of it.
Seeing alternate points of view is important. I can apply this to my own life in a way where I listen carefully and weigh all possible sides. It’s harder to do when there are heavy health decisions to be made. The best options moving forward may involve hard parts but still be in my best interests. How will treatment options and side effects affect my quality of life? What are the chances of success? Am I a good match for a proposed treatment? Why is it being suggested for me? I make a lot of pro and con lists. I weigh some factors more than others. I look at the facts I have. I consider my feelings. I ask the people I trust for input and their valued perspective.
Careful listening is needed to understand and value perspectives different from yours. Doing research so I can make informed decisions is important to me. Asking questions fits here too. I won’t discount intuition because even after all the research has been gathered and all the questions have been asked, there is a feeling about what the right choice is for me.
Spirituality was my second highest strength. It reflects a sense of meaning and purpose in the universe. It’s a search for the sacred whether that’s secular or nonsecular.
I was surprised this strength ranked so highly. I used to identify very strongly with spiritual ideology and concepts around faith. It’s been shaken. I don’t believe having cancer has shaken it as much as the rigidity of the religion that I’m a member. I question more and I believe questioning is good. I am not going to narrow the sphere of spirituality to religion. Spirit to me has become a much larger force and a person’s chosen religion or choice not to be religious doesn’t determine a person’s faith, spirit, or worth. There is no one way for everyone to be spiritual. We each find our own way.
How can I use spirituality as a strength living with cancer? I know I am more than this body where I currently reside. My views on the afterlife have evolved. I have pondered a great deal about the meaning of life that influence my choices and give me peace. There is some sort of transcendence at work that allows me to connect to something greater. I have a peace journal. I meditate. I pray. I engage in discussions about faith with close friends. I feel a connection to the universe when I’m in nature.
I can still talk to my parents and feel their presence. I talk to God daily. I let myself be quiet and I listen to the stillness.
I’ve always found situations amusing. Sometimes not at the time, but I could laugh at them later. It seems I can make other people laugh even if it’s not my intention. I will choose a comedy over a drama. Children and their natural shenanigans are gold mines for humor. Stephen Colbert and his writers craft a masterpiece nightly with his monologue that has made the past couple of years more bearable. I have become a fan of good political satire. I love being around people who can make me laugh. It’s a quality I look for in strong relationships.
How can I further use my sense of humor as I live with cancer? It’s very useful in dealing with stressful situations. Cancer is stressful. Seeing the lighter side in a situation reduces stress. A person living with metastatic breast cancer faces a lot of adversity ranging from medical obstacles, social relationships, and navigating through it all off road because it is a wilderness. A good sense of humor has the potential for transforming something negative into something positive because of a shift in perspective. My former oncologist and I had such a good chuckle over a theory a radiologist gave about why I had severe muscle cramping to the point of hospitalization. His theory was I wasn’t moving around enough in the MRI tube. It is just absurd! There isn’t ROOM to move around in there and you need to stay motionless for the imaging to be accurate. The radiologist knows a person can’t move around in there. I shared the story with my oncologist and he said, “What are you supposed to do – jog around in there?” The stupidity behind this utterly false theory is astounding, but the image of jogging in an MRI tube cracks me up every time. Being in good humor doesn’t necessarily mean you are laughing all the time. It’s more of an outlook you carry with you.
How a person handles life’s challenges certainly is an indicator of their character. I will strive to handle mine with a perspective that affords me meaning, a sense of humor, kindness, positivity, and a dash of grace if I can get it.
What do you feel are your top character strengths?
How do you apply your strengths so you flourish and make the most of them?
Click here (viacharacter.org) if you have an interest in completing the survey for yourself to learn about your top character strengths. It’s free to take and get results. I am not affiliated with them in any manner.
December not only ends another year but it will finish a decade.
2020 is days away.
What has made history since 2010?
A lot. The world is a big place and I will leave out many events. My perspective is primarily through the lens of someone living in the United States. There have been cataclysmic forces of nature that ended lives. Gun violence has become common and largely ignored. I’ve included advancements in technology that have changed our lives for better or worse. Many events happened that aren’t mentioned here. The following is a mere sampling.
The decade got off to a horrific start. Haiti was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12, 2010. It left more than 316,000 dead or missing, over 300,000 injured, and over 1.3 million homeless.
The first iPad came out in April of 2010.
On April 29, 2011, over 22 million viewers watched Prince William marry Kate Middleton.
Many viral challenges came and went in the past decade. The Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $115 million for ALS awareness and research during the summer of 2014.
The world argued over whether a dress was black and blue or white and gold in 2015.
Apple also released racially diverse emojis in 2015.
The Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal on June 26, 2015.
The largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history took place on January 20, 2017, to support gender equality, civil rights, and other issues that affect women. It was called the Women’s March and drew over 5 million people in over 600 marches across the world. Reportedly, around 500,000 people were in attendance at the Washington March.
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The Category 5 hurricane caused a major humanitarian crisis to Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents.
A total solar eclipse was visible across the U.S. in August of 2017. Another one won’t be visible until 2024.
The most diverse class of lawmakers in history was sworn into Congress in January of 2019.
Astronomers captured the first image of a black hole on April 10, 2019.
Donald J. Trump became the 3rd U.S. president to be impeached on December 18, 2019.
What has the last decade been like for me personally?
I sold my condo and moved into a beautiful home in 2010.
I planned to become an adoptive parent. Cancer had other plans.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the spring of 2012.
My mother died from MBC in April of 2013.
I taught for the first six years of the decade which I found blissful, purposeful, and frustrating. I went on medical leave from my job in the fall of 2016 and officially retired from a teaching career in June of 2018.
I started this blog on August 25, 2018.
Cancer sucks and it has consumed far too much of the decade and taken far too much of me. But I’m still here.
It’s easy to say fuck cancer and that the last decade sucked. I do say it. Things often undeniably suck in a very fuckful fuckable fuckety way.
A Triple F if you will.
It’s harder to embrace all the goodness and joy that abounds when you are living with a deadly disease. Amazingly, I have felt profound joy and happiness when I have been filled with feelings of love and something divine out in nature. I have basked in the warmth of time spent with dear friends. I have been inspired by encouragement and support from my family, friends, and strangers. I have been filled with prolonged moments of peace.
This decade has been harder for me than I ever could have known. I will move forward into 2020 with the intention to continue living in love, hope, and light.
What advances have there been for treating cancer over the last ten years?
I became overwhelmed trying to sort through information. Many drugs that have been approved for one kind of cancer have also been effective in treating a different kind. There are different approval dates based on different indications. Some drugs work well in conjunction with one another but didn’t start out that way. Some drugs have different FDA approval dates based on changes in dosing. Fulvestrant is one of these – it’s been around a long time but receiving a high dose (fulvestrant HD) when first receiving this drug makes an old drug better. This change has been approved within the past couple of years. New combinations are being tested in trials every day. I can’t do justice to all the approved breast cancer drugs in one post. I encourage those interested in learning more to visit the National Cancer Institute and Food and Drug Administration to conduct your own searches.
As I nosed around on FDA.gov, it looked like there have been over 20 approved drugs for treating cancers in 2019 alone. I don’t know how many of these are applicable to specific breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer settings. It was part of my feeling overwhelmed.
Back to the last decade and the development of drugs to treat breast cancer.
I begin with these caveats:
- Information provided is true to the best of my knowledge.
- The first known FDA approval date is given unless otherwise noted.
- Drug names are listed first followed by brand names.
- Keep in mind, this is not a complete list.
Just for fun, here are a few drugs from the 90s that are still widely used today:
- anastrolzole/Arimidex 1995
- letrozole/Femara 1997
- trastuzumab/Herceptin 1998
- capecitabine/Xeloda 1998
- exemestane/Aromasin 1999
- fulvestrant/Faslodex 2002
- lapatinib/Tykerb 2007
- everolimus/Afinitor 2009 (2012 for MBC)
And finally, here is a snapshot of what the last decade has seen in FDA approved drugs for treating breast cancer:
- eribulin/Halaven November 2010
- capecitabine/Xeloda September 2013
- gemcitabine/Gemzar (2004) with carboplatin 2015
- palbociclib/IBRANCE 2015
- neratinib July 2017
- abemaciclib/Verzenio September 2017
- trastuzumab and pertuzumab December 2017
- alpelisib/PIQRAY May 24, 2019
- trastuzumab deruxtecan / Enhertu is the newest drug available to treat metastatic breast cancer with FDA approval as of December 20, 2019. Read about this latest advancement here.
Tucatinib also is showing a lot of promise for those with metastatic breast cancer. From what I’ve read or heard, this is still in trial status. If my science friend Pauline is reading this and would like to drop some science on us, please comment below and share in language we understand and can take to our oncologists.
I started my cancer life on a regimen of doxorubicin /Adriamycin (approved in 1974) Cytoxan (approved in 1959) followed by paclitaxel /Taxol (approved in 1994).
No new drugs were approved between 1974 and 1994. How is that true?
As I look at the lists of drugs above it seems abundantly clear I would not still be here without the advancements of the last decade. So many targeted therapies have emerged and many more are in the future. Research is responsible for these advancements. I have been on many of the drugs listed above. I need more options that will specifically target mutated cancer cells in my body. I believe in research happening at UW Carbone.
My medical background is that of a patient. Gone are the days when I say I don’t have a medical background because I have had quite an education. I don’t have a degree, but I have a background. Unfortunately, the past decade has schooled me through first-hand experience. I bring that knowledge to the table and to each office visit. I plan to keep bringing it.
And I will find a way to bring it wherever I find myself in 2020.
Happy New Year.
I wrote this as a poem a lifetime ago in 1993 and added on more in 1995. Long gone is the reason why it happened over the course of two years, nonconsecutive at that. I suspect I started to hum it rather than recite it and it morphed into a song. More came to me as I hummed. It isn’t too surprising as I almost always have more to say.
No matter what you celebrate (or don’t) this time of year, I hope you believe in goodness and that you carry it in your heart to share with others. Spread the goodness.
Show me the star said the shepherd,
Show me the star in the sky.
Show me the star so I may go
Find where the new savior lies.
Show us the star in the east,
Said three wise men who were kings.
We’ll bring him gifts and he’ll bring to us
A life that is everlasting.
Show me the star shining brightly,
Up in the heavens above,
For all to find the new born king
And share with the world all his love.
Look for the star Christmas Eve,
Shining above all the earth,
Over a manger, a crib made with straw
To announce baby Jesus’s birth.
Show us the star said all people,
Wherever we look every day.
Wherever we go, whomever we meet
To spread the message of Christmas Day.
To spread the goodness of Christmas Day.